Cycling culture and social change.
Do we cyclist have a specific identity? Do we move around the city in a distinctive manner? Is our relationship with urban space inherent and different from non-cyclists'? Do we say similar opinions on certain subjects? With some qualitative social research techniques (participant observation and discussion groups) we can try to answer these questions.
Do we cyclist have a specific identity? Do we move around the city in a distinctive manner? Is our relationship with urban space inherent and different from non-cyclists'? Do we say similar opinions on certain subjects? Do we cyclists have, beyond the difference among us, some coincident attitudes which would involve that cycling culture exists no matter the development of cycling in our social context?
My research attempts to get some answers to these questions. Firstly, through participative observation I’ll try to picture whether a distinctive urban cyclist’s relationship with social space exists. Do we make the same calculations about space? Do we occupy public space and transit along it in a way which make us different from others and our activity different from other activities? Do we react in a similar way when dealing with distances, urban obstacles, by-passers, traffic, limits among roads and pavements, corners, paths, zebra crossings, speed, hurry, risks, challenges, traffic signs, laws, itineraries, city landscapes?
Secondly, I focus on the social discourses about cycling as produced by urban cyclists themselves, reformulated concurrently with the changing status of cycling as urban mobility. For this second purpose I apply the discussion group technique (a kind of focus group, but less directive, according to the methodology designed by Ibáñez and completed by other social researchers as Martin Criado or Conde), with a sample composed of segregated groups of urban cyclists by city. In the case of cities where motorised vehicles are still heavily prioritized in urban mobility, cycling is still approached in a conventional manner –as if it were an irrelevant, somehow exotic mode of transportation- and cyclists might perceive themselves as stigmatized, disregarded by institutions, and target for the aggression of drivers. Therefore activist attitudes, countercultural positions or a sense of pertaining to an avant-garde –along with significant identitary references- tend to appear in their discourse. On the other hand, in cities where urban cycling has been established, cycling begins to be perceived –locally at least- as a more mainstream activity: fashionable, innovative, popular, socially sanctioned; and cyclists’ social discourses, while keeping some ‘outsider-like’ contents, reflect a softening of ground-breaking and alternative references. Their positions are normalised and their attention focused on new issues such as quality of service or practicality.
I have chosen three Spanish cities where discussion groups of urban cyclists were to be held: Madrid, Barcelona and Seville. In Madrid, cycling policies and infrastructures are almost non-existent; in Barcelona cycling was boosted more than a decade ago, before any other Spanish city, and now cycling is a well-established mode of transportation; finally, in Seville a complete cycling programme has been developed over the last six years, multiplying by ten the number of cyclists and making the city the leader in urban cycling in Spain. Therefore, they represent three different moments in the development of urban cycling in Spain, and cyclists from each of them show a corresponding degree of “mainstreaming” in their discourses.
Pedro Malpica Soto
Category: Science, Research and Development